Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Shocking(not really) new story

Programmers weigh in on vote-rigging idea, some details confirmed


As the dust settles after the first day of a bold claim by Florida programmer Clinton Curtis of alleged vote-rigging software, skeptics and believers alike have flooded Internet sites in earnest analyzing the claims.

In short, technical analysts – though not all in agreement – have found the concept of a rigging program plausible. Most note that without the original source code, such a program would be undetectable.

“From a technical standpoint, it is perfectly plausible,” said a middleware programmer for IBM in North Carolina, Kim Winz. “Whether or not this turns out to be true, it’s a very good reason why we need the source code available for all of these voting machines.”

Some point to the fact that Diebold already employs hidden buttons in their software as an example of how such a program could work.

On other fronts, Curtis’ claims check out. Raymond Camillo Lemme, who was an inspector for the Florida Department of Transportation looking into another of Curtis’ claims was found dead in a Valdosta, Georgia Knights Inn of apparent suicide on July 1, 2003, according to Valdosta police.

Hai Lin Nee, a Chinese national, was arrested for passing sensitive information on U.S. weapons to China. Curtis claims that Nee worked as a Quality Control Inspector for his former employer, Yang Enterprises; RAW STORY has to date only been able to confirm that Nee had worked for a research institute designing software, according to the Georgia Office of Homeland Security. Yang Enterprises is a Florida state contractor which does, among other things, software research for NASA.

Yang Executive Secretary Cohen, who Curtis alleges was present at meetings with Feeney, rebuffed a call from RAW STORY Tuesday morning.

“I will not speak to you,” he said, and took down the site’s number for the third time. The company has not responded to requests for comment.

The man accused of commissioning the software, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), who was a Florida state legislator at the time, has remained silent. Three calls placed over the last two days have not been returned.

Nearly all programmers are in agreement that such a program would be hard to detect as it existed on the voting machines. Alan Schlingenbaum, who has an MBA from Harvard and works in the computer industry, says a distinction Curtis made is correct.

“There is a very important distinction between source code and compiled code,” Schlingenbaum said. “It is very hard (virtually impossible, for most practical purposes) to look at compiled code and completely understand every aspect of how it works.”

Winz, who has spent the last 14 years in software programming, notes that the programming language Curtis says he used is often used for prototyping, and that it could be easily adapted for Windows and Unix machines.

“Visual basic is a program that is used to do prototyping,” she said, noting that the language is designed to give a client the “basic functionality and user experience that you intend” from a final product.

Others are more skeptical. Jeff House, a former Microsoft programmer who works for a prominent dot-com, said he believed the prototype was probably written but wouldn’t go far.

“Without more detail, and based on what I know so far, it's hard to imagine that this could have really been used to change votes,” he said. “It's still embarrassing, to be sure, but it's like he built a nuke out of a cardboard box and some wires...unless there's some plutonium hiding in there somewhere, it might look good, but it isn't going to blow up.”

Winz says that such a program might create a log file that could be detected, but in any case the only way to determine anything conclusively would to have access to the machines.

“If those hard drives could be subpoenaed or examined, they could give [info] on whether or not they’re doing what you’d expect,” she said.

“Legal power (power of Congress, power of subpoena, whatever) must be used to compel Diebold, ESS et al to divulge, to a proper panel of experts, any and all source code and compiled code that was in use on Nov. 2,” Schlingenbaum asserts. “There is no compelling reason for Diebold to object to such an order.

“It's an outrage that independent experts did not examine the code before the election,” he adds. “It must be examined now.”

“You can’t say this has not been used unless and until corporate control is willing to open this code to evaluation,” adds Roxann Jerkot, who taught programming at Georgia’s Lanier Technical Institute, and who has been in private consulting business since 1985. “We don’t have any way to prove or disprove what this man is saying.

Winz, while skeptical, still believes an legal investigation is paramount.

“I think there’s enough there that it really demands an investigation,” she said. “When police investigated a crime, they’re not saying that it absolutely happened, they’re just saying its suspicious and we need to investigate.”

Corrections: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a programmer as Kim Minz. Her last name is Winz. Also, a previous version used "Virtual Basic;" the correct name for the language is Visual Basic.

Click here to see the affidavit


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